The two men order noodles. One asks the waitress if there are any specials. She rattles them off.
“Why is it called longevity lamb stew?” the first man asks when she leaves.
“To rip you off,” his companion replies.
So much for elegant labels. This exchange confirms what the audience likely already knows: “Blind Shaft,” shot documentary-style in 16mm, isn't one of those graceful or ornamented Chinese cinematic offerings that typically reach our shores. There are no calligraphy lessons. No pagodas. No distant emperors or righteous warriors wrapped up in museum-quality robes. No salt-of-the-earth citizen farmers marching off toward Beijing to confront implacable bureaucracies.
In fact, there's barely any red, a color that traditionally saturates Chinese films. Li Yang's gritty film-noir palette is bleached-out and sullen, matching the ramshackle coal mine and raped-earth environment that play such a central role. This Fresno Filmworks production, premiering in the Finger Lakes at the Smith Opera House on Oct. 14, is about betrayal, corruption, murder and intrigue. And it's searing.
The two men are Tang (Wang Shuangbao) and Song (Li Yixiang), and when they order the stew, they're in celebration mode. Their deadly scam plays out this way: They take a young worker under their wing, telling him they can get him a job at a high-paying coal mine if he pretends to be a relative. They work for a few days at the mine, enduring brutal working conditions.
Then they kill him.
After triggering a cave-in underground, Tang and Song — play-acting with vigor — emerge to demand compensation for their “relative.” The corrupt mine manager inevitably would rather pay them off than submit to any sort of official investigation.
As the gruff coal mine boss explains when a prospective employee complains about having to work for a trial period without compensation: “China has a shortage of everything but people.”
The Smith Opera House screens “Blind Shaft” at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 and 16, at 2 p.m. Oct. 17 and at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 and 19. It has a running time of one hour 32 minutes. In Mandarin with English subtitles, it is not rated.
Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $3 on Thursdays and $2 on Tuesdays. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to reserve tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.